Liss turned back to her own target. She took a deep breath, and raised the gun to her shoulder. She needed to hit the bullseye if she was to stand any chance of winning. It’s not even about the stupid bet, she thought. I just don’t like losing.
The roar of the crowd faded to a dull hum in her ears. She aimed the gun, closed her eyes, and squeezed the trigger.
“Well I’ll be damned!” cried the red-nosed man.
Liss opened her eyes, but could only see two bulletholes in the target – one in the dead centre of the bullseye, and one in the 4 ring.
“What happened? What did I hit?” she asked.
“Your first bullet hole!” replied the young woman. “You shot the exact same spot!”
Liss fought the urge to grin, and simply shrugged, as if this were an everyday occurrence for her. A weight lifted from her shoulders. After all, unless the young woman did the same, she couldn’t lose.
“Remember, miss, the first young lady has fourteen points now. You have nine. Make this last shot count,” said the red-nosed man. Liss frowned. He’d clearly picked a favourite. Fixing her gun sight must have really wound him up.
The young woman lined up her shot. Something fluttered past Liss’ face and she reached up to brush it away. The moth landed on the gun, opening its black wings as the woman took her shot. The bullet went wide, slamming into the ‘1’ ring. Liss looked from the moth to the target and back again. A white shape glowed in the black fuzz of its back; a white shape that looked a lot like a human skull.
“Oh bad luck, my dear, bad luck indeed!” said the red-nosed man. He reached out to brush away the moth but the young woman grabbed his wrist. She looked up into his eyes. He gasped and tried to recoil but her grip was too firm.
“That is a Death’s Head Moth. Do not strike it,” she said. She dropped her voice low, the implicit threat sounding like angry waves breaking across the deck of a sinking ship. Lightning crashed in the depths of her black eyes. The moth fluttered away into the noisy air above the crowd.
“Hey, here’s my gun back,” said Liss. The red-nosed man broke eye contact with the stranger and snatched the gun from her. He reached out a trembling hand to take the young woman’s gun.
“I believe you owe my friend here a prize,” said the young woman. The dark cloud passed across her face, and she broke into another of her wide grins. Liss shuddered. She couldn’t help liking the young woman, but those teeth would take some getting used to.
The red-nosed man fumbled behind him for the wooden figurine, and handed it to Liss. Liss smiled, and led the stranger away from the range before the man could call the militia.
“It seems you won, my new friend,” said the stranger.
“Indeed I did, except that moth was bad luck for you, wasn’t it?” said Liss. She might have pressed the distraction with the stallholder if he hadn’t dismissed her own bad luck.
“Not at all. She was good luck for you. Maybe you should consider her a sign,” said the stranger.
What an odd way to think about it, thought Liss. For the first time, she noticed the silver scythe hanging from the young woman’s black velvet choker.
“It seems you may keep your life, Miss Hunt. I’m glad of that – I like you,” said the young woman.
“I like you too,” said Liss. Her hand flew to her mouth to stop the words but they were said before she could stop herself. The young woman chuckled, and Liss grinned.
“In fact, I’m going to give you a gift, my new friend.”
“Oh you don’t have to do that,” said Liss.
“No, I don’t have to, but I want to.”
The young woman reached forward, skimming her frozen fingers behind Liss’ ear. She pulled out a flat black coin, and dropped it into Liss’ open palm. Liss flipped it over. One side was complete blank, and the other was marked with a flame.
“That is a very special coin, Liss. When you’re ready, and only when you’re absolutely sure, all you have to do is put that coin on your tongue, and whistle. I’ll come for you. But this is important – I will only come for you if you do this,” said the young woman.
“So I won’t see you again?” asked Liss.
“Not until you’re ready.”
“Exactly who are you?” asked Liss, narrowing her amber eyes.
“I’ve got a lot of names. But you can call me Morta.”
A strangled cry of excitement cut across the babble of the crowd. Liss craned her neck to spot Teva plunging towards her. Liss turned back to Morta, eager to introduce her to her sister. Morta was gone. Liss kissed the black coin and slipped it into the deepest reach of her pocket for safekeeping.
“Oh that fortune teller was amazing! She knew everything! And I know she was right because I’ve already seen everything she predicted,” said Teva. “You have to come and see her! You have to!”
Liss looked down at the wooden deer in her hand, and thought of the black coin in her pocket. Somehow she didn’t feel like she needed to know what the future held. Liss Hunt had all the time in the world.
* * *
If you liked Liss, then maybe you'll enjoy The First Tale! It's 99c from Amazon or Smashwords.